How My "Help" Becomes A Problem
“How do I know when I am enabling?”
This is a common question from a person attending the Wits End support group for the first time. The answers they receive are as varied as the people who offer them. There are broad understandings of enabling behavior that ring true and commonalities in how enabling “shows up” in our relationships. However, the act of enabling a person who has addiction is very personal to our own personality and the dynamics of our specific relationship. I can only share what I know of enabling from my own experience. I often refer to myself as being the primary enabler to a family member who was in the depths of their addiction.
The best way I can think to describe my behavior is to run a litany like the list “You know you’re a redneck if….”
- Do I think the solution to another person’s problem relies on me and that I am responsible for their success or failure? I am enabling.
- Do I think the other person can’t do something so I have to? I am enabling.
- Do I want to fix a problem because I think it will lead to changes in someone else’s life? I am enabling.
- Do I spend more time thinking about someone else’s life then I do about my own? I am enabling. (And co-dependent!)
- Do I feel uncomfortable with the circumstances of another person’s life and just want that discomfort to end? I am enabling.
- Do I manipulate and try to control another person’s behavior to “help” them? I am enabling.
- Do I avoid telling another person what I want for myself because I am afraid of their reaction? I am enabling.
- Do I do things for someone else that they should be doing? I am enabling.
There is a consistent message I was conveying to my family member every time I engaged in my enabling behavior. The message was loud and clear – though unspoken – it was “You can’t do this.” I believed it and acted on it. I would have never, ever, said those words to my loved one. But my actions conveyed that message every time I intervened to fix his problem or engaged in conversation about what he should be doing. There is a slogan in the recovery world that says “If you think you’re part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” I lived that perfectly,
Finding a different path in my relationship with my addicted family-member became my focus. Learning how my behavior was contributing to his illness rather than curing it helped me to make different choices. It is not easy to change from being an enabler. At times, my path of recovery looked similar to the steps my family member was making to break-free of addiction. I had to stop focusing on his life and problems and start working on what I needed to change. Gradually - oh so slowly! - the changes I was making began to have a positive results. I was moving from the enabling role to one of influence and support. As I stopped doing the work that belonged to my family member, he started to step up and find his own way.
And all of that leads to the subjects of detaching with love, letting go, acceptance, and many, many other layers of recovery that occur within a family that is grappling with this disease. I think I’ll save that for another blog….or two.